On Friday, during a tense Antioch City Council meeting, the city council decided to insert language into its ballot measure that would continue an oversight committee and insert a 20-year sunset on a 1% sales tax proposal.
The council will now come back a fourth time to finalize their ballot measure in an effort to ask the citizens for a 1% sales tax increase aimed at raising an estimated $14 million annually. The proposal would effectively end Measure C and replace it with a 1% sales tax for a period of 20-years.
During public comments, many people advocated for the council to change the language to include a citizen’s oversight committee and some form of a sunset.
Antioch resident Rich Buongiorno stated that the council should consider increasing the public trust in government which comes with a sunset and quarterly reporting through a citizen’s oversight committee.
“That confidence comes from residents knowing that the city cares and when the city does not even understand what the city is talking about, there’s constant miscommunications or lack of communications. And then to top it off, since 2015, the fourth quarter, you have been taking away information reports and now transparency is almost nonexistent,” said Buongiorno. “That ladder of integrity is now pretty much a step stool.”
Mark Jordan applauded the council even though he did not like taxes but stated the city doesn’t have an expense problem, but had an income problem.
“Leadership is understanding that you have a problem and that you need a solution. And my opinion is that you’re attempting to provide a solution,” said Jordan. “It’s really up to us as a community to, to step up and decide what we want for our community. And if you want a better community, you simply have to pay for it.”
Marty Fernandez highlighted a difference of opinion between Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and City Clerk Arne Simonsen during the Friday Morning Breakfast Club meeting.
“At this morning’s breakfast club, Lamar, you insisted that there’s an oversight committee in this deal. Soon as you left, Mr. Simonsen said that no, there is no oversight committee on this deal,” explained Fernandez. “On the new deal, you’re in such a hurry to get this done. You just keep screwing it up. There is one or there isn’t one?”
Ken Turnage II then spoke requesting a citizen’s oversight committee be included along with a sunset.
“When this measure was presented, it was easy to tell that many special interest groups already knew what was going to be presented with the way they showed up in support and with a handout looking for money before it was even available,” explained Turnage. “That’s another reason why oversight should be here. Then during the last special meeting, it has become even more apparent that oversight is needed. There were direct comments made about the future shortfalls of funds. This measure is being sold as quality of life and a replacement of measures… so please put in the language that will preserve the original comfort of measures.”
Turnage also questioned the polling stating if two-thirds were really supporting it, why wouldn’t the council consider going for a tax that wouldn’t go into the general fund and instead directly to police and code enforcement.
“If it went 100 percent to police and code enforcement, I would stand on the street corner with an organ grinder doing everything I could to get this to pass,” said Turnage.
Diane Gibson-Gray suggested they delay the tax for two years when the entire council is up for election. Meanwhile, she highlighted how the current measure as written repeals the citizens oversight committee and that the new language only requires an annual audit which was a standard operating procedure for all public agencies and public postings of expenses. She encouraged the council to include an oversight committee and a sunset—she preferred 10-years.
“In addition to the lack of oversight sunset date, I don’t think it’s fair for the two incumbents who are up for election this cycle to bear the brunt of the community’s dissatisfaction with this tax is presented. In two years, you will all need to consider how this tax impacts your position should you choose to run again,” said Gibson-Gray.
Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe explained during council discussion that he maintained through the entire process was that the council would still have the choice to keep the oversight committee.
“What we’ve provided has always been, as I’ve councilmember Monica Wilson and I have discussed our recommendations. It’s this council’s pleasure to make the final decision,” said Thorpe. “So, for anyone to suggest that we’re trying to hide anything or anything of that nature, frankly, that’s inappropriate because it’s not true. We’re pretty transparent.”
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock explained how on Tuesday she asked for clarification from oversight committee if the ad-hoc committee would continue and was assured several times it would be. At today’s meeting, the comments made by Thorpe and Wilson last Tuesday were determined to be inaccurate nor mandatory.
“That’s why I was asking the ad-hoc committee whether or not this committee would be in place and I was assured several times and I even asked about the meeting times, assured several times of this committee would be in place and at the end of the meeting, it was brought to our attention that 4.16 repealed that,” explained Ogorchock.
Thorpe interjected while Ogorchock was discussing with the attorney the actions to take.
“You know, this idea of rush, it’s either people are paying attention or they’re not. We’ve taken a poll, we took feedback and when we had another poll,” said Thorpe.
Ogorchock then called point of order saying she was not done talking and was given back the floor to continue the discussion on a sunset and how she would not be opposed.
Councilman Tony Tiscareno explained how on Tuesday although he believed in a unified council on a vote for a tax measure, it didn’t mean he agreed with everything in it.
“We had long discussions on the sunset, we had long discussions on the oversight. it was my understanding that it was gonna continue to be an oversight a process wasn’t, even though I saw this here, but I didn’t put two and two together. So that’s my fault. That’s my ignorance. I’m not understanding this. We’re not asking the right questions, which I should have did Tuesday and prior as well oversight as far as I’m concerned. I think it is important,” said Tiscareno. “When we passed Measure C, we committed to our residents that we would have an oversight we put in the language and you were going to hold us accountable, accountable to make sure that all the, all the proceeds go to where it was supposed to go.”
Tiscareno did say that when it came to a sunset, he didn’t know if the council could come to an agreement but that he was adamant about a 20-year sunset.
Councilwoman Monica Wilson offered her comments saying people were taking opinions as fact.
“I’ve heard a lot of opinion that people are taking as fact. There’s no special interest that getting money prior to prior to this even going to ballot. We were very transparent on this committee is the committee that’s been working over a year. We reached out to community via the two surveys and join the conversation,” explained Wilson. “Prior to joining this committee, I was very adamant of let’s ask the people what they want. Let’s ask everybody what they want and this is what we came back to us.”
She called the process very straightforward and that she wanted to get opinion versus facts straight.
“This is just a comment, that’s just me making a comment of we need to come together on this and figure out the best way to move forward and make sure that this, this pass without these opinions with misinformation getting in the way of that,” said Wilson.
Mayor Sean Wright recommended with the oversight committee that they codify it and that if they can get everyone behind it by having a sunset then they should again codify it by including a sunset.
“People know we’ll have to come back and look at it again and hopefully will have done everything we can economic development wise where we actually can let it sunset and what need to redo it,” said Wright. “I’m fine with both of those changes.”
After some discussion, the council decided to start this 1% sales tax, should it pass, April 1, 2019, thus replacing Measure C early in favor of the new tax. The 1% sales tax would then continue for a period of 20-years and would end in April 1, 2039.
Tiscareno then requested all the changes be written out ahead of time so that they could review it, study it, along with the public before they vote at the next meeting.
Ogrochock was preparing to make a motion when Thorpe interjected attempting to make a motion before Ogrochock stopped him.
“So did I lose the floor again? I don’t understand how I keep losing the floor? I was asking a question to the City attorney,” stated Ogorchock.
Thorpe replied he could make a motion at any time during the meeting.
“Yes, you can, but I have the floor,” stated Ogorchock.
City Clerk Simonsen and Mayor Wright stated Ogorchock had the floor.
Ogorchock then made a motion to retain the sales tax oversight committee in the ballot measure while including a 20-year sunset. Tiscareno then offered a second on the motion.
The council then unanimously approved the motion in a 5-0 vote where the attorney will bring back new language for the ordinance and resolution
The council will meet next on Tuesday, August 7 at 4:00 pm to finalize the ballot measure that will go before voters in November.